Groundhog Day


With aching muscles and a tired mind I return to the keyboard again, a glass of wine and a worn out telephone beside me.  The last two days and a total of 20 working hours saw me organizing a former client’s home wine cellar.  The wines being stocked were nearly all from my old wine shop, so the back breaking labor of lifting case after case, time after time, hour upon hour was blessed with a sort of happy reminiscing; stocking this man’s nearly 300 cases of the world’s most beautiful wines took my mind back to those giddy days of 2007 when it seemed nothing would ever go wrong.

But the warm ear piece of the phone that now offers tonight’s glass of wine its company is a reminder that these days are repeating themselves.  My first two days of this week were like a vacation in some ways; allowing for my escape from the daily reminders of a career now ended.  These days, partially interrupted by the cellar stocking in my old friend’s new multi-million dollar River Oaks mansion, are indeed reminding me of that Murray film from so many years ago.  Only this set of Groundhog Days aren’t ending so comically.

Daily I work this old phone, followed by the visits with folks most inclined to becoming excited, or at least interested in, my new plan of action.  As folks across the Country talk of The People, as retailers and politicians alike gather themselves up with a pledge to protect consumers and their futures, this new plan I’ve forged surely should be attracting followers.  But even as our dollar becomes stronger just as our economy continues to weaken, it seems my theory for a purely consumer oriented and dedicated wine business has been born into a world of truly frightened buyers.

My daily discussions include talks with men who once thought nothing of parting with $3,500 for a case of wine.  Also in my call list are retired bankers, CEOs, Presidents of oil companies and many others who once buoyed a successful wine shop.  The words of praise and encouragement are many, yet the final sentence, in true Groundhog Day fashion, remains the same. 

I once penned an article dedicated to Roses & Tangerines, remember that one?  In that story I discussed the over abundance of happy-go-lucky tales flowing around in the blog-o-sphere.  Authors of these blogs, otherwise successfully employed OUTSIDE of the wine world, irresponsibly publish article upon article reflecting a “glass completely full” look at the world of wine.  I’d like to invite those same folks to participate in my daily routines.  If you can convince one of these potential investors that the situation truly is all Roses & Tangerines, I’ll offer you a 49% stake in my new venture.

Another dose of reality these days has been the advice and words of wisdom offered from business owners and top wine people I’ve encountered.  Local food writers, ever eager to keep you and I on the cutting edge, have taken to delving into certain eateries that require 60 minute drives or an incredible penchant for culinary exploration.  Having plenty of free time on my hands allows for visits to every new restaurant to make the pages, and I hit the road on an almost daily basis.

The stories remain identical.  Blips on the radar, attributed to recent upticks in press reviews, are recognized by some of the restaurants I’ve visited.  But the weeks of struggle that preceded those reviews, and for some restaurants the massive employee trimming that resulted, are feared as what will be the norm when the reviews subside and folks resume their cost cutting routines.

The fine wine world is indeed in a state of crisis.  Direct messaging and private conversations between the not-so-lucky confirm these sentiments.  Day upon day of Chefs moving out of places you once thought they’d be forever is another small sign that the local scene is suffering as well. 

But I have an answer for this crisis.

All it takes is a few serious listeners.

In the end, Phil and Rita, after what seems like an eternity of failures, finally have their happy ending, winding up together as nature seemingly intended.  Now if only that Phil & Rita scenario will play itself out for the wine folk of Texas….

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Houston Wine Idealist

Letting Go – Servicing a Community in Need

My wife and I have spent these past several days attempting to construct a new life for our family.  Daily we have visited Early Childhood Program Schools, desperately attempting to find placement for our precious three year old daughter, as we simply will no longer be able to afford our family Nanny with the closing of my wine shop.  With every tour of these accredited facilities, we are encouraged to fill out paper work for the multi-month wait lists by smiling tour guides, their intentions pure, and our hopes once again are dashed – we need care now. 

Since the shuttering of the doors to my wine shop, an act brought about by scenarios ranging from hurricanes to lost customers – with every imaginable facet adding to the demise one could imagine, indeed that many folk who have never met me have speculated to – my wife and I have spent many an hour contemplating many particular points of interest for us. 

My wife is my absolute opposite; level headed, centered, the patience of Job (reference the Bible), religious, spiritual, employed….  But one thing we share is our bond.  This is her first marriage, for me, my third.  She has never felt more protected, and I share that sentiment; in 42 years of life, I have never felt so safe, so secure, so bound by love.

As we drove from place to place yesterday afternoon, or it could have been Tuesday, these days are running together recently, my wife looked to me and commented as to a certain betrayal leveled my way by a person both my wife and I once considered a friend.  This recent betrayal, not to be overly rehashed, for the point of this letter is one of service, not remorse, perplexed my wife, and Big M (as I’ve nick-named my wife on Twitter) truly wanted resolution, if only between the two of us.  What could have caused this public scrutiny, this betrayal, from someone we had once broken bread with?  Big M was honestly searching for an answer.

Yesterday, I received more correspondences from clients in my e*base than ever before.  They were not answering one of my weekly newsletters in hopes of securing a few bottles or a case of the wine of the week.  No, they were asking for advice.  Advice on where to turn for wine until my new winery project comes to fruition.

So with that thought in mind, with thoughts of servicing a community in need at the fore, I’ve settled into my keyboard once again.  I remain mystified, as is my wife, that a certain local food critic harbors ill feelings over a phone call made 6 years ago by a totally stressed out shop owner under the thumb of a previous wife, a banker with a ruthless attitude, a landlord who refused to secure a failing ceiling, etc, etc, etc (yes, I can always go on as to the causes of stress in my life, perhaps I need a prescription, right?)….  But today, from this moment on, I come to a community in need, to launch, until the winery opens, a service this community so desperately desires- if you will forgive any apparent elitism, as absolutely none is intended.

Every Thursday, I will answer your requests for assistance with wine. Tell me: what are you looking for?

Are you searching for the wines in the Houston Chronicle’s Wednesday “Wine Section” – PLEASE, before you blindly walk into Spec’s and pay too much, ask me, I’ll help you find the wines for less money.  If indeed you wish to buy these wines, just ask me, I’ll help you FREE OF CHARGE!

Are you looking for the perfect wine with Arctic Char? 

Perhaps you wish to build a collection of organic Loire Reds? 

Email me and I’ll help you, FREE OF CHARGE!

I’ve decided that the first way to build a community, the kind of community that will grow, expand and flourish from within, is to recognize the issues that have effected the community I’ve lost myself to from the beginning. 

I’m taking my family to the Hill Country this week-end.  We’re going to see the stars, the ones up in the sky, and I’m going to explain to my daughter that her Daddy is going to be a better person than the man who her Daddy called Dad; a better person than the man these past 10 years gave the world.  A man my daughter will be so happy to call “Daddy.”  We’re going to find a ranch on which to build the “winery”, and we’re going to chase fireflies, and I’m going to smile – like I haven’t done for a long, long time….

And then I’m going to come back and start servicing a community until the winery is built; and hope that I have another “family” who will follow me to the next phase of life….

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier

Tomorrow Begins Upon Waking

So, with that being said, with feelings of weightlessness now gradually replacing the overwhelming textures I’ve carried for so many years, I now find myself with nothing to write about.  Drinking a bottle of wine is a singular experience for the first time in my entire life.  I have no one to market to, no one to extoll the vinous virtues to, no one will return an email in praise of prose only to thank me for an offer they will “think about ’till their cellars are less full”.  Well, perhaps just a bit of the old textures remain…

So what does a 42 year old man do now that all he has to look forward to are the inevitable calls and letters from the collectors?  Ending a business in no way means a man is free, it actually infers quite the opposite.  I once woke at 4 in the morning contemplating how my day would progress, how I would endure if yet another email program went unanswered.  Now, as with this day’s particular pre-dawn awakening, I stir and wonder how I will handle the mountain, the avalanche of bills and taxes that are due – and that are to continue to amass. 

My first goal – long before the idea of a virtual winery comes to pass – is to find suitable employment.  Dusting off the resume, adding the attributes acquired over this past decade, was quite a chore in itself.  And watching the television late at night, as CEOs find work as pizza delivery boys only adds to the indescribable layers of tension that promise to build as the months pass.

Yet I can’t escape a sense of peace through all of this.  There are wine-makers in France waiting for me to return.  There is a cottage somewhere between here and the High Plains, or perhaps the other direction, towards the East Texas Piney Woods, replete with peaceful pastures, guest quarters, facilities for my next project, all the trappings required for that next phase.  It’s there, I just need the time and energy to hunt it all down.

Something tells me that Texas will remain home for awhile.  Big M still dreams of the perfect B&B.  I remain in love with thoughts of a limestone cellar, dug deep into a dusty, rolling hill.  Perhaps wearing my fedora this week-end past resolved my adoration for the Texas countryside, perhaps it was the open-pit, grilled meats we consumed. 

But when this next phase is launched, after the inevitable settling of these difficult issues before me, one thing is certain; I will need a lot of open air and crisp cool nights surrounding me.  The wine will be French, from Burgundy, the Rhone and points further South exclusively, and my home and my winery will be my castle and my, well, home.  Visitors will be family, guests will be friends, and clients will be both; family and friends.

For now, it’s time for a hair cut, a good shave, perhaps I’ll dry-clean a couple of suits, and let’s see if this ol’ boy can find a job….

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier